The Business of Video Marketing: How and Why Stories Sell

If you’re a marketing director in charge of spending dollars where it counts, you’ve already shifted your focus to video because it works.

According to HubSpot, more than half of marketing professionals “name video as the type of content with the best ROI.”

But we bet you knew that already.

That’s because video converts. Whether you’re talking about email leads or sales, video improves conversion rates across the board.

And that’s why it’s now impossible to log onto Facebook or Instagram without seeing the latest product launch video from a big national brand.

Take Whole Foods’ recent “We Believe in Real Food” campaign. With shots of glistening vegetables and happy families, this slogan reveal makes all the right moves for Whole Foods’ customer base.

Sure, this video reminds Whole Foods customers what they already value – fewer preservatives and artificial colors in their food.

But it doesn’t do any storytelling work that will prompt customers to share the video with friends or influence purchasing decisions.

To make a big impact on your customers – and your bottom line – research shows you also need a good story to power your video:

Still: how do you convince your higher-ups to take a leap and invest in an expensive asset like video storytelling?

At TAR, we believe that shifting your marketing strategy to include story-driven video is one of the best ways to maximize your ROI.

Dollar-for-dollar, high-production video transforms your brand’s ability to connect with your customers.

Stories help consumers make emotional connections with the mission or purpose of a brand, and emotional connections inspire action, personal transformation, and deep brand loyalty.

So don’t get left behind as other brands make the leap to story. Take advantage of powerful storytelling to elevate your brand – and outmaneuver the competition.

Not only do we have the client experience to prove why a storytelling strategy works, we can help you nail that next pitch meeting with the VP and bring them on board with your vision.

Download our Marketing Director’s Cheat Sheet on how and why stories sell for the numbers your boss needs to see during your next one-on-one.

Storytelling for Marketers 101

When we talk about story at TAR, we have a specific idea in mind: video content that dives deep to bring out your company’s purpose.

Here’s a little more on our process:

The thing is, a single impression of your brand isn’t enough – not when we’re exposed to 5,000+ images every single day.

Think about it: how many slogans like Whole Foods’ “We Believe in Real Food” campaign do you hear every day? How many more do you immediately forget?

Neuroscience shows that storytelling cuts through this noise, while data aimed at persuading your audience slips by forgotten.

Whether you want your audience to click the “buy” button or sign up for a newsletter, stories – not facts – have the power to influence decision-making.

Here’s the basic formula you need to inspire your customer’s emotions, help them remember you, and prompt them to action:

  • A plot that introduces a relatable character, lays out the goals of your company, and establishes your unique worldview. A good plot, like any juicy story, will help customers remember and share what you have to say.
  • A hero who helps your audience identify with your brand.
  • A conflict for the character to overcome. This could be the problem a character encounters, or the hurdles faced by an organization.
  • A “hero’s journey” where the character triumphs over conflict, and your audience becomes invested in the outcome.
  • A resolution that inspires your audience to forge an emotional connection with your brand and take action.

In the world of fast-paced digital and TV advertising, it’s easy to overlook character. But savvy brands use character to their advantage.

Just take Flo, the spunky saleswoman for Progressive Insurance. She’s a memorable recurring character you want to root for. Flo goes above and beyond for her customers – just like Progressive will, the ads imply. That’s a character – and a company value – customers connect with, remember, and share.

Emotional connections also get to the heart of brand authenticity. In a survey conducted by Bonfire Marketing, 91 percent of customers identified brand authenticity as more important than the usefulness of the product or service itself.

If you’re not creating an authentic connection with your customer, you’re letting leads walk out the door without sealing the deal.

Because without a personal connection, 71 percent of customers will keep their wallets in their pockets. Facts can’t make these authentic connections with customers – but stories can.

At TAR, we craft narratives about the most authentic part of your brand – why you exist as a company. We want customers to feel good about you and how they relate to your brand – and we know this is impossible to do without a good story.

Brands like Budweiser and Patagonia already know this, which is why their campaigns focus on forging authentic connections with their customers through the power of storytelling. They offer customers the chance to connect with the brand’s values, whether that’s the power of building a business against the odds or making gear that outlasts a customer’s adventures.

If you’re ready to play in the big leagues, use story to unlock the most powerful emotional tool in your marketing arsenal.

Only story opens a direct path to your customer’s decision-making. And that’s not a sales pitch – that’s a fact.

The Science of a Good Story

Why do we feel strong emotional connections to video marketing campaigns like Budweiser’s recent Super Bowl ad?

In Budweiser’s one-minute spot, they give us all the ingredients of a powerful story:

  • A protagonist with a goal (Mr. Busch himself, making his way to America)
  • Conflict (an arduous journey and anti-immigrant sentiment)
  • Resolution (meeting a compatriot, Mr. Anheuser, and starting their company).

The result? An effective, emotional advertisement that encourages viewers to support Budweiser as they would support the American Dream.

Neuroscience explains why Budweiser’s ad is an emotional home run – and why it’s such a successful pitch.

We know you don’t have time to crack open a textbook, so take a gander at this TEDx talk from Simon Sinek, a leadership expert and author of Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, instead.

In his address, Sinek suggests that inspiring innovators like Apple communicate by explaining their purpose to consumers – their reason for existing – before making a sales pitch.

“Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo,” says Sinek, outlining his version of Apple’s ethos.

“We believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use, and user friendly. We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?”

This sales method is effective because it taps into your limbic brain, the system that prompts emotional responses that move you to take action. It’s even more effective than explaining why your product adds value.

“Yes, people can understand vast amounts of complicated information like features and benefits and facts and figures,” Sinek says. “It just doesn’t drive behavior.”

“When we can communicate from the inside out,” or from why to how to what, “we’re talking directly to the part of the brain that controls behavior, and then we allow people to rationalize it with the tangible things we say and do. This is where gut decisions come from,” Sinek asserts.

Story structure arc

Like Sinek, we believe companies that appeal directly to the emotions of consumers before driving home rational selling points are more successful than those who don’t.

Storytelling is the most powerful way to connect with your customers because stories help them identify with your brand’s purpose. And you just can’t communicate your company’s purpose without building a compelling narrative.

Facts and figures alone won’t compel your audience to act because we don’t remember data without a story to back it up.

At TAR Productions we go beyond traditional marketing strategies by using story to tap into your customer’s emotions.

Sure, traditional strategies – teaser videos and product explainers – can be successful. You may even close more sales when you post a video that shows off a pair of shoes or takes a customer through a house.

But a purchase or a click doesn’t guarantee your company will be memorable ten minutes down the road. Clicks don’t inspire brand loyalty.

Stories help customers remember and connect, and you can use them as part of your video marketing strategy to drive traffic, leads, and sales.

For TAR, storytelling is also about more than selling products or services. We want to help you reach potential supporters, from corporate partners to potential employees and volunteers.

Unlike data points, storytelling assets help your company lead a conversation about shared values and identify crucial players for your future success.

By targeting your message to an audience that shares your beliefs, you’ll have a direct pathway to their hearts, minds, and wallets. But hey, don’t thank us. Thank the limbic brain!

Need a takeaway to remember how the science works? Our Marketing Director’s Cheat Sheet  has your back.

Stories That Work

No matter what your brand is, when you develop stories that provoke, inspire, surprise, or excite you’ll have instantly shareable content that helps move your audience.

Take this example from a video campaign for Principal Financial GroupOn the surface, Principal Financial Group may seem like an unlikely candidate for a successful, story-driven video marketing campaign

How do you build a compelling story around financial services that prompts an emotional response from an audience? Especially when advertising-savvy audiences pick up on a company’s efforts to sell to them – and tune out these appeals?

At TAR Productions we like unlikely – and we believe that story can work for everyone. Story works more effectively than a print ad or a billboard, which doesn’t offer your audience a chance to connect.

Stories make audiences feel something, make them identify and respond to the company itself, and those emotional connections are more valuable than traditional advertising dollars.

Our job is to showcase the ethos of your company and help your audience connect with that worldview – and that’s exactly what Principal Financial did.

Their idea is simple: Principal’s financial services exist to help customers weather the ups and downs of their everyday lives. The company’s ethos is built around accessibility, helpfulness, and a strong ethical backbone.

To help their audience identify with the company, the video asks viewers to imagine they are the company, steadily growing to serve 19 million customers over the course of 200 years. The script places “you,” the audience member, in the driver’s seat. You’re the person leading Principal to success. (Hey, that feels pretty good!)

At the same time, the video suggests, “you” never forgot your Midwestern roots or your devotion to helping individual consumers.

“Then you realize,” states the voiceover, “that while the accolades are nice, they’re not why you’re here.”

“And you haven’t lost sight of why you began this journey so many years ago. You see a way to help people, wherever they are in life, one person at a time.”

In a series of diverse portraits, the video provides a glimpse of what these individual customers look like. We see a young man holding a dog, a middle-aged woman with a bright red scarf, a weathered man wearing a cowboy hat.

“Ah!” thinks the audience, “these people look familiar. They look like the people I work with or who live in my town – they even look like me.” They’re relatable.

In this way, the hero of the story is both Principal Financial Group – the principled financial services provider – and the audience member, who identifies with and recognizes those principles in their own worldview.

Facts and figures alone won’t compel your audience to act because we don’t remember data without a story to back it up.

When posed with a potential conflict – is the company growing too big or too fast, causing them to forget the “little guy”? – the video focuses on meaningful images of individuals. This gives the audience member an extra opportunity to identify not only with the principles of the company, but also with the customers they serve.

By resolving unstated concerns that a multinational company might not “care” about individual consumers, the video helps its audience members leap over a potential customer-service hurdle, identify with the company’s core values, and feel connected to the very people that company serves.

Now that’s a story to get behind and remember.

behind the scenes video production digital cinema camera

What Stories Accomplish That Data Can’t

When you break down the complex moves in the Principal Financial Group video, you’ll notice that the video focuses on traditional storytelling, rather than advertising appeal. There’s:

  • Plot, in the historical growth of a company focused on helping people with everyday problems.
  • Character, in this case, both the financial group itself and “you,” the audience member. This move makes audience identification with the company incredibly easy.
  • Conflict, in the potential for a large company to leave behind its everyday customers in service of bigger, corporate interests and more profit.
  • And there’s resolution, in a dedicated return to the individual consumer. Because helping individual people is the right thing to do.

While there’s plenty of data woven into the video itself, from the number of customers to the number of countries the company serves, the piece isn’t pushing this information to convince potential consumers to sign on.

That’s because the video identifies Principal Financial Group’s “why” before trying to sell the audience on the benefits of working with the company.

Remember, as Sinek said, “People can understand vast amounts of complicated information like features and benefits and facts and figures. It just doesn’t drive behavior.”

The Principal Financial Group video – like all well-told stories – emphasizes audience identification and inspires feelings of trust, recognition of shared values, and connection.

The more a customer identifies with a company that helps individuals, the more they’ll feel like they can trust – and work with – that company as an individual.

Stories like this help bypass a consumer’s natural distrust of advertising. At a time when only 4 percent of Americans actually trust the integrity of media or advertisers, storytelling is a natural bridge for overcoming skepticism and distrust. And for turning clicks and views into dedicated, loyal customers.

When we bypass a consumer’s defenses against advertising appeals with story, we appeal to something bigger and more important than their impulse to spend money.

We appeal directly to who they are – or who they want to be. And we help that consumer or audience member connect with the company that’s the right fit for them.

Because video is such a memorable medium, it’s the perfect way to tell an authentic story about your company that will attract customers who value honesty and transparency. In other words, when you show your company’s true colors, you start attracting the right clients.

That’s the mutually beneficial relationship the Principal Financial Group offers its audience – transparency about values and the sense those values are shared between client and service provider.

And if Sinek taught us anything, it’s that no amount of data in the world could make that connection stronger. It’s the kind of job only story can do.

Finding Your Brand’s Story

When we start working with a client, it’s our job to suss out their storytelling needs and match them to specific company goals.

Want to inspire donations by showing how your organization helps individuals in need? That’s what our client Helping Haitian Angels needed to accomplish, in order to continue their life-saving work in Haiti.

Launching a new campaign to expand your business? That’s exactly why we started working with Peter Harsch Prosthetics. One of the best prosthetists in the U.S., Peter Harsch was poised to land major national and international clients – and, with our help, they did.

The process of matching organizational goals with compelling stories isn’t always a straightforward one, as you’ll see below in our case studies. It’s an ongoing collaboration between our team and our client, as we learn all about who you are, where you are right now, and where you’re headed in the future.

We know the right questions to ask to get things rolling – and how to bring out the stories even our clients didn’t think were there.

We dive into the heart of what makes you tick and uncover your brand’s perspective, so we can help you find the customers that will remember, respond to, and share that perspective for years to come.

How do we do it? Take a look at two of our most successful brand campaigns to see how storytelling changes hearts and minds – and helps you hit your financial targets.

Our Process at Work: Helping Haitian Angels

Helping Haitian Angels originally contacted us for help with a fundraising video. The non-profit got its start by chance, when a Virginian couple traveling through Haiti met a group of 35 kids who had been abandoned. Facing starvation and disease, half of these children would have died within a few days had they not been found by the organization’s founders, Bill and Debbie Harvey

The Harveys didn’t have time to explain the details of their mission to every single potential donor over lunch. They were busy building housing, establishing classrooms, organizing vaccinations, and spending time with the kids, loving each child like their own.

Before meeting with new donors, the Harveys asked visitors to watch our film, so they could see the challenges of life in Haiti first-hand. The Harveys wanted potential donors to connect with the Haitians who benefited from ongoing financial support and give donors a sense of pride in contributing to the project.

“Unequivocally, they give me tenfold what I give them,” Debbie Harvey says in the video. “It’s not even close.”

Over the course of the video, it’s easy to see this is true – how excited the children are to hug Debbie, how interested they are in their schoolwork, how proud they are to help build their school.

By telling the story of the deep need for the services provided by Helping Haitian Angels, we could help HHA appeal directly to donors who identified with their mission. We shared their “why,” or purpose, so potential donors with the same worldview would identify with and support their project.

We also emphasized the unique aspects of HHA’s three-year plan, from involving Haitians directly in the organization’s educational and health initiatives to expanding its services with support from the Haitian government.

It wasn’t enough to show the drive and commitment of the Harveys and their volunteers. We also wanted to show the individual children who meant so much to the organization – who, in essence, made up the “why” of the Harvey’s work in Haiti.

“As a nurse, I want to help everyone in the community,” Adeline tells the camera in Creole, the native Haitian language. “Not just the kids at Kay Anj Village.”

Adeline’s words represent the larger ripple effect that the Harvey’s organization has created throughout this Haitian village – and invites donors to take part in this process.

As HHA discovered, these direct appeals to donors work remarkably well. Between 2010 and 2014, our film became the centerpiece of their most successful fundraising effort ever. Viewers could easily see the positive change HHA brought to Haiti, and the film generated millions of dollars in donations.

This included major donations of $100K and $250K that allowed the Harveys to continue – and expand – their impact. Some of their largest benefactors decided to donate after watching our film, without ever needing the lunch meeting other than to hand over a check.

We’ve been to Haiti twice with HHA and made two films for them. They’re making change at such a rapid rate that, unfortunately, any film we create becomes less relevant 3 to 4 years later.

For example, the original need for HHA to build a medical clinic evaporated. Not only do the children now have regular check-ups and immunizations, but the entire community now has access to these services, too.

As HHA continues to create change, their story evolves. We’re honored to work with them on a third film later this year to capture the next chapter of their exciting journey.



Our Process at Work: Peter Harsch Prosthetics

Peter Harsch is among the top prosthetists around the globe, with an incredible reputation that reaches from the U.S. Military to amputees worldwide.

Crafting a prosthesis is precarious, detailed work that affects the comfort of everyday life for amputees. Prosthetists have to fit, refine, and refit prosthetics on a continual basis, especially as athletes train and gain muscle or lose weight.

But there’s a reason Peter was the No. 1 prosthetist at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego, CA – one of the top places active military members are sent after losing a limb in Iraq or Afghanistan. Harsch’s hands are like gold, and he can fit amputees with more precision than anyone else working in his field.

When we met Peter in 2012, he was ready to launch his own prosthetics company and leave the bureaucratic red tape of the Naval Medical Center behind. He wanted to do more for his patients than he could at the medical center – and he needed a way to explain to potential clients how and why he’s moved to do his work.

Our aim was twofold: tell the story of Peter’s company in a way that demonstrated the inspiring success of his clients, and help Peter achieve his organizational goal of expanding into new markets west of the Mississippi River.

In our video, “Active Life Goes On,” we tackled a complicated narrative. Not only did we tell the stories of three amputees whose lives changed after working with Peter, but we also demonstrated the drive, commitment, and passion of Peter himself.

“Some people just want to come in and be able to go to the grocery store and walk around their house,” Peter explains at the opening of the video, describing his range of clients. “And some want to come in and do the Ironman Triathlon.”

As the audience learns, Peter’s company not only believes this is possible for amputees, but that it’s vital for their emotional and physical well-being.

At the heart of Peter’s message is the idea that active life goes on, even after you lose a limb. There’s Eric, who, with Peter’s help fulfilled his long-term goal of completing an Ironman – prosthesis and all. And there’s Levi, who soars over the earth on his dirt bike. Combat veteran Daniel surfs and skis with remarkable skill.

“At the end of the day, if you’ve really helped somebody for the rest of their life, you’re not just helping them, you’re helping their whole family,” says Peter. “Because they can enjoy life a little better.”

This is Peter’s deeper why, and it’s something we’re able to share more effectively in a short film than in a print advertisement in a magazine or a short commercial. You can watch his mission statement unfold in a longform video. These amputees aren’t just surviving, they’re thriving – and you can see it in the way they talk, run, and conquer their goals.

As a result of our collaboration with Peter Harsch Prosthetics, the company contracted with multiple international governments’ Wounded Warriors programs – worth millions of dollars in revenues. PHP is also sought out by amputees from around the U.S.

And while Peter’s talents are obvious to those who work with him, capturing his skill and dedication on video speaks volumes to prospective clients – even when Peter’s not sitting across the table.

Building the Case for Story

Because emotion moves people to take action – to care, share, and become a fan of your brand or service – storytellers have the ability to shape the outcomes of video campaigns more dramatically than ever before in history.

The stories we tell at TAR Productions are intended to be used for months and years to come, and to have a lasting impression on your audience. As Sinek explained – and as we hope we’ve convinced you – facts and figures can’t do this. Only story can.

What’s more, data demonstrates that this strategy works. Video storytelling is more memorable to consumers, while video itself is guaranteed to improve your click-through rates, online visibility, and influence sales.

From a marketing perspective, that’s pretty much a perfect combination.

Check out our Marketing Director’s Cheat Sheet  on what the kinds of stories TAR creates can do for you.

To be fair, the stories TAR creates aren’t for everyone. They’re for a specific, intended audience who connects to and appreciates the story – and the worldview the brand promotes.

That can be an inclusive worldview, like Principal Financial Group’s belief that helping individuals is the best way to effect economic change. Or the targeted belief of prosthetist Peter Harsch, who knows that life doesn’t stop after you lose a limb.

Having a perspective is how stories spread and audiences grow, from a small core of dedicated believers to a worldwide army of consumers.

To tap into that powerful energy, you have to understand what drives your company to do what no one else but you can do.

That’s something we’d love to talk with you more about. Contact us today, and we’ll start uncovering who you are – and telling your story.

The Power of Foley, Sound Design & 5 Great Examples

The eye sees what the ear hears.

That’s how the saying goes in Hollywood. Filmmakers tend to put so much emphasis on the visual side of productions. There is never a shortage of conversations among filmmakers about what camera or lenses are the “best” or “newest”. We live in a digital world and cameras are essentially a technology. And technology is an evergreen, ever improving, topic.

Foley artists working their magic

On the visual side of films light is often overlooked in terms of it’s importance in story and connection with an audience. Audiences will consciously or subconsciously interpret light and color as it relates to story, setting, plot and foreshadowing action. Almost never will an audience know what camera or lenses a film was shot on. I’m not suggesting that these elements aren’t important, nor that they do not have a subconscious effect on the audience- they certainly do.

However, the amount of attention and emphasis are misappropriated compared other facets of filmmaking, such as sound design and effects.

Sound has the ability to draw us into a story and make us feel like we’re in the same environment. Horror films do this especially well. Whenever the antagonist (in horror films this is usually a killer) is closing in on a subject, we hearing a soft piercing sound that gradually increasing in volume and pitch. This subtles gets under our skins, makes us feel uncomfortable and nervous. And when the antagonist strikes the sound will increase dramatically.

Another great example of this is love stories- the polar opposite of horror films. Love stories will blend in soft, warm music or effects that make you want to cozy up with our stars on screen.

Foley sound design is a mysterious process.

Action movies take this to a whole nother level with fight scenes or car chase scenes- but that’s a different post. (when you punch someone does it really sound like that?)

Sound cannot be underestimated. We always bring on a dedicated sound mixer for shoots as it really is 50% of your project (some would say even more). Having a dedicated sound mixer on location will ensure you have quality sound and levels throughout your production. Sound mixers will typically bring their own mics and recorders and be able to add character metadata to each mic. So, in your edit program- such as Final Cut Pro, you can easily see what channel audio relates to what character. This speeds up your post production dramatically and allows for more time to focus on story.

I once had our sound designer suggest we fire a sound mixer because he wasn’t recording the audio at full bit rate (24-bit, 48hz). You know you are working with a great sound designer when then take things this seriously.

However, the real hero of sound is foley- where sound effects and elements are recorded after production in a studio. Short of the week posted a great short film that puts a huge focus on sound design and foley. I love how to film- which as it would stand alone would be a masterpiece, is intercut with the foley artists working their magic.

Foley is a little bit of a mystery. You never really know what the foley artists are using to create such sounds. So long as it works it really doesn’t matter, and that’s what makes foley so incredible. You can “fake” a lot of sounds and still have the desired effect on the audience. Because sound isn’t something we see, it’s easier for the audience to buy into it and accept it as reality.

Great filmmaking inheriting asks audiences to suspend their disbelief and accept what they see- and hear, as reality. Footsteps to environmental sounds to enhancing sounds we do see all make us feel like we’re a part of the film. Sometimes it’s the details that are highlighted for a specific effect, such as a door creaking open, or someone exhaling in relief.

Mixing foley and sound design channels on mixing board

We recently worked with Futures Fins on showing their incredible process of designing and manufacturing surfboard fins at their factory in Surf City USA (Huntington Beach, CA, USA). Futures custom fabricated several machines or customized machines that are 50-60 years old to build their new line of Alpha fins.

This machinery is storied and has served priceless value to all over the past half century. We wanted to bring these machines to life, instead of just simply showing a process in a rather dull fashion. We worked with one of our talented sound designers to really help bring the story to life and give these machines a personality. Seeing the machines in action is one thing, but hearing them, and feeling like you’re there in the room really helped make that connection.

What are your thoughts on this article? Let us know in the comments below!

Branded Entertainment on Instagram

The Power of Great Content on Instagram

Brands carry weight with customers. The power of a brand can be so impactful that, just because a brand name is on a product, consumers will buy without hesitation. Customers who trust a brand, know their product lineup and quality standards won’t need to do any research, price shopping or delay purchasing decisions. When a brand has that trust with a customer it’s tough to break that relationship. And with social being such an active part of our daily lives, branded entertainment on Instagram is becoming of huge importance for brands everywhere.

For example, many families only purchase cars from one brand, be it Ford, Toyota or sometimes even a category of cars- such as ultra-luxury or exotic sports cars. This translates to incredible ROI (return on investment) for years to come.

Fans (the best customers) will also do a ton of marketing, or remarketing for a brand. Social media has quickly become the de facto advertising platform for brands because their reach is seemingly limitless. When fans Like, retweet or repost a message from a brand they do it because it makes them feel good. They want to reciprocate the feeling they get from a brand among their peers. This is why influencers have become an integral part of marketing.

Clae shoes on Instagram

When this connection is made among brands and fans the impact cannot be denied. Brands can leverage this in many ways. Instagram is great because there is focus on one image at a time. And the evolution of the platform has only made it more social and allow for greater impact, such as direct messages and video.

Instagram has quickly become one of the best social networks out there for brands. It’s perfect for messaging since a picture is worth a thousand words. The engagement of Instagram over other social networks is outstanding and it seems to be the network of choice these days- and as social media matures, it looks like it could stay this way for a while. No wonder Facebook bought it for $1B).

As Instagram has grown and it’s product matured, the company has been slow to roll out and refine the platform. Recently, there was some backlash when the company revealed a new, modern logo and when it started displaying content that was not in chronological order.

Want to create a campaign for your brand with us? Click here to get in touch with us

While many longtime users (read: fans) did not like the changes it makes sense and there are ways brands can take advantage of this to gain more followers, likes and traction on the platform.

Instagram has always taken a slow path to product- meaning the way it’s users interact. It has always put engagement first, which pays dividends to brands to who treat the platform this way and approach it with care and enthusiasm.

Instagram wasn’t the first to adopt video. YouTube is certainly the king, and Facebook has had it for many years. Vine launched before Instagram’s ability to play video, too. But Instagram does it really great for the platform that it is.

The recent upgrade of 60-second video means that brands now have more time to tell a story. This means we can now tell a story of greater impact, one that connects with the audience in a more meaningful and complete manner. 60 seconds sounds short on the surface, but believe me, you can tell a lot of story in a very little time. Think about all the Superbowl commercials you’ve seen over the years that have been incredibly thought provoking and memorable. The big difference here is that the audience’s face is only inches away from the screen, and often times they have headphones in giving sound design even more importance.

Direct Messages

Brands can get creative with their campaigns using direct messages. One of the key ways Direct Messages are underutilized is sending top fans (likers, commenters, earliest followers, etc.) custom video messages. Direct messages are almost always read and when it’s a brand responding to fans, the impact of this can go beyond a campaign that is sent out to millions of followers.

Giving these custom media clips to fans to repost with hashtags can increase your hashtag’s performance, brand reach and when people catch on, followers and likes can increase dramatically. There are many strategies and ways to do this properly and brands that are creative have the opportunity to take their social media campaigns to the next level in terms of reach and ROI.

Campaign Synergy, Preview and Drip

When brands launch campaigns Instagram can be versatile with the media since it lends itself great to photos and video. Below, Aston Martin used three posts to creatively deliver a big message. While sometimes the multi-post blasts can clog followers feed, they were sure to keep this one to three post. Effective, yet not annoying.

Following high quality images with video gives the fans a dynamic angle and information they crave.

Aston Martin triple post on Instagram.

The objective here is to reinforce the message with little hits from time to time. This is why we encourage the brands we work with to approach projects with the goal of getting more assets and creating a more complete campaign, rather than a one-off.


Some brands are using social media as a preview or drip campaign. When taking the preview route, brands will show the first several seconds of a video or series and then direct audiences to a micro-site or page on their website to see what happens next.

One of the greatest parts of the preview method is that you have a totally engaged audience on the microsite. If the only way your audience will end up on this microsite if through the profile link on your Instagram account you know that they were intrigued and took action to see the remaining of the video or campaign. This means your audience is already hooked and actively wants to know more!

Other digital marketing tactics can be initiated after the view is done such as post-play call-to-action, unique discount codes or early product info. The results of campaigns like this are incredibly powerful, although you’ll have a smaller market (which, in this case, is a good thing).

Below, we worked with Penny Skateboards on a global campaign for the launch of their Painted Fades line of skateboards. While they took advantage of using high-quality stills from the video campaign, they also were careful to display their product imagery and video in a specific order. This is also know as a Drip Campaign in social media.


The drip method is also gaining in popularity. While drip campaigns have been around for many decades and re-popularized with email campaigns recently, they are also incredibly effective on social media and are perfectly suited for video.

Sixty seconds is plenty of time to pack a story, but sometimes a brand’s objective in targeting the truest fans. To do this, brands can launch a drip campaign where they tell a story over a series of videos on Instagram with the payoff at the end.

Asking your fans to watch a series of video is more work, and you can expect that the more videos in the series the less will see the complete campaign. At first, this might seem counter-intuitive but it can actually be an advantage. This is a direct path for brands finding out who their truest fans are. The truest fans are the ones who absolutely love everything the brand puts out and seeks out this content.

At the end of the campaign, brands can reward their truest fans with special product, discounts, or other brand assets.

Drip campaigns allow for various touchpoints among customers and fans on a continual basis. The mix of video and still imagery provides ground for perfect A/B testing. Brands can easily see what works best and figure out why- the long term benefit to this marketing ROI is huge and one that has never been available before in the past. Some of this has will have to do what time you post to your social media account, but brands can fine-tune their messaging based on real-time feedback.

The real value arrives when brands decide to do a follow-up campaign, and since many brands have seasonal campaigns, this means they are producing 4-5 campaigns a year (Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter and sometimes Holiday). Brands who approach agencies, marketing partners or video production companies- anyone who will tell your brand story- will know exactly what type of media fans react to the most, only furthering the ROI potential. We put business results ahead of everything at TAR Productions, and ROI is something we talk about a lot.

Penny Skateboards Branded Entertainment on Instagram


With Instagram being a mobile-only format, it’s easy to shoot and edit videos directly on the phone. While this is tempting and ideal from Instagram’s perspective, it might not be the best move for brands. When your aunt goes to the zoo and wants to share her home video of lions, it’s perfect.

As I said earlier, when a brand carries weight with fans it can go a long way. Turning a customer (or even a nobody) into a fan is a lot of work, it is earned. The trust comes with a standard built and established by the brand itself. And in turn, fans expect a certain level of quality of content.

The ability to constantly put out content for content’s sake is generally a bad idea for brands. This can greatly affect a fan’s perception of the brand. Why would a brand want take a chance on this? And, as you know, when video is done right it can be far more effective.

Brands that care about the invaluable connection they have with fans cannot take chances and put out quality of work that is on par with your aunt going to the zoo. Fans have and expectation for quality content that continues to raise the bar in terms of the true connection they have with their favorite brands. This is why brands must take time with their strategy and execution.

If you think about a brand you like, such as Clae Shoes or Aston Martin cars as mention above, and you’re used to seeing great products and imagery from these brands, it’s easy to have a connection and expectation from them. Branding in it’s truest form is subliminal, you know you like but an explanation as to why you like the brand is neither relevant nor required.

Fans interact with brands on Instagram 58x more than on Facebook, and 120x than on Twitter.

Brands that quickly put out content that is low quality, shaky and not polished risk losing this connection or lowering a fan’s expectation of what a brand stands for. When it’s on par with something that you can do yourself or your friends are doing, the distance between yourself and the brand diminishes greatly. The long term effect of this is that brands that should be top of mind won’t be.

When this happens brands will start to lose fans (the best customers), in fact, fans will hemorrhage. First the quasi-fans will go, followed by the truest fans. While the truest fans will hang on the longest, psychologically they will stop recommending product or solutions to peers.

Brand Opportunity on Instagram

Video gives brands the chance to have their story stick if they invest in it. When time, energy and commitment to story are not invested in the opposite effect occurs. The recent developments of Instagram as a platform provides greater opportunity than it ever has.

This is why I stress that brands be specific and strategic with content on Instagram. It’s a long-term strategy that can pay off with incredible ROI and benefits beyond what we’ve seen before. Branded Content is sought out by fans on a daily basis. Instagram is a platform that will be around for the considerable future and can be leveraged in many different, unique and inspiring ways. Brands that put in the effort and execute a strategy will be the brands that win. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Brands must continue to elevate their brand with new creative, messaging and further making that connection with consumers. New campaigns, new product and new opportunity must be cared for in a manner that matches the brand’s direction and elevation. In an age where media content is oversaturated, it’s the quality content that makes an impact.

The purpose of Instagram is to create brand recognition and value outside of itself. The way brands leverage the platform and create incredible connections among fans is unique to the brand, industry and fan, but when it’s done right the ROI can be great. The best brands are those that care deeply about their fans, and Instagram is the best platform for this.

What are your thoughts on this article? Let us know in the comments below!

Using Video Well

The internet is built on video- video is everywhere. It’s our news, it’s social, education, and advertising. What else, it’s noise. All of it. Distracting us from something else online, calling our attention, hyper attention gets the worst of it.

Except video doesn’t work. Most videos fail to meet a simple objective- to connect with the audience in an authentic and meaningful manner. Perhaps this is why we only have 8 5 3-seconds to capture our audience’s attention- there’s so much else out there screaming “watch me!”

In order for video to work, it has to have a purpose and stand out from the noise. It has to be heard at a pitch that’s unique from the constant clutter of the internet.

Video is much more difficult to create well, far more impactful when it works.

It’s interesting how quickly we forget this simple fact. To stand out we have to be ourselves because no one else can do what we do.

As Seth explains it, this happened to copywriters and photographers, too, and it’s happening to video.

Copywriters have an easy job, they write words, and all they need is a pen and paper, although a computer with internet connection helps. If I want to write something I’m not hiring a copywriter when I can do it myself.

Photographers also have it easy. Today, all they really need is a mobile phone since they all have pretty decent cameras built into them. And since I have a phone I no longer need to hire a photographer either.

We cut corners and fail to do ourselves justice by posting something mediocre.

But the value add is how we use our tools. Just because I have a keyboard, it doesn’t mean I’m Hemingway. And I’m certainly not Ansel Adams- the great photographer.

Copywriters need not be threatened by the fact that everyone has a computer with internet, same with photographers. And now, too, video professionals. As storytellers, we add value to a production- the way we frame a shot, light a subject, move the lens through a scene. These are attributes unique to us. There is no commodity and no one can copy us.

Now that everyone has a video camera it doesn’t reduce your value but creates the opportunity to distinguish yourself. Using video well creates incredible connections. We are extraordinary contributors.

What are your thoughts on this article? Let us know in the comments below!

Working at a Distributed Video Production Company

Over the past 13 years of producing videos we’ve experience more things than we haven’t. We’ve seen huge changes in our industry including, the shift to digital, then HD, the DSLR revolution, YouTube, social sharing, digital distribution and now 4K and VR. All of this has resulted in an incredible reduction of barriers to entry.

We’ve seen good times and great times. Fought hard to win business, celebrated and hired a full staff. We’ve taken on huge projects with ambition and refined a process.

We’ve also seen our share of the bad times. We’ve lost business, had projects canceled last minute and been denied payment. We’ve had to pivot and redefine ourselves. We’ve had copy-cats of our work and style. The worst of them was having to let go of employees.

Interview setup with high profile CEO

Through all this, I’ve learned a few things about running a business. For us, the best way to run TAR Productions is through a distributed model, meaning most everyone we work with is located all over the world.

We create specific, tailored teams for each project we take on based on the needs and what the project entails. Although we’ve really nailed down the kind of brands and companies we work with, different projects require different skillsets, knowledge and expertise. Building teams of some of the best and most talented freelancers allows us to be nimble and diverse.

Working as part of a distributed company is part of a global movement. Many companies are letting employees live where they want, for example, WordPress (the backend that powers this website and about 24% of the website out there) is also 100% distributed. I have friends at SlyTrunk and Clave Media, both of which are distributed (in fact, we all work out of Bloc).

A couple of years ago we decided to take advantage of modern technology, cloud services, high-speed Internet and our amazing team, who happened to be located all over. The lowered barriers to entry could be advantageous to us, and to those we were partnering with.

Operating on a distributed model gives us a ton of advantages, but the most important are team and nimbleness.

Here’s how to blend in at a distributed video production company, such as TAR Productions.


The most valuable asset we have as storytellers and being a production company is our team. Without them, we are nothing essentially.

The film industry is made of freelancers with various specialties. These are typically masters of their trade and I’ve been able to learn so much from them. When we get hired for a job I look to them for their knowledge and expertise in bringing out the best for the specific project.

Working in various roles before turning TAR Productions into a full-service production company, I was able to meet so many interesting people. Some are friends I had growing up who have come full circle back into my life and we now collaborate on projects. Others I’ve met through various projects or introductions.

The bottom line is if you continue to pursue your passion, act professionally and put yourself out there you will create connections you never thought on.

The distributed model gives us tons of advantages.

Several years ago I reflected on all the incredible projects I’ve been a part of and it dawned on me that I have incredible tools at my disposal. So why not put these connections to good use. There are plenty of people out there that find value in what you do. When I started bringing projects to these people they were always grateful to work with me again, and the projects started turning out better because of it, increasing our value.

It was a win-win-win situation. I was able to create a more valuable product, the people I learned from who are masters in their own right got more work and our clients received a more valuable product as a result.

A few years ago I was part of a small creative agency when my former business partner left me high and dry, abruptly & unexpectedly, I had to start over, and rebuilt a new brand. This is what I mean when I refer to the hard times at the beginning of this post. The silver lining is that when I took a step back I was able to realize a great opportunity.

Rather than rebuilt a team locally, I designed our unique process around the valuable team I already knew and worked with so well. The catch is that this team was located all over the world.

One thing to note is that a large majority of our team has been together for 10+ years. Many of them know each other and have the process down. They know how we organize and tag our media, they know what specs our projects require. They know our distinguished look and feel that we bring to projects and help us get there.

“Our team is comprised of professionals who are self-motivated and above all else, trustworthy.

We have an established list of team members that can really achieve anything. Because of this, and a few other reasons, we pay our team above average rates for the industry.

If you’re looking to duplicate this model you can start by using freelance services such as Upwork or or sites such as 99Designs. There are many talented people on there, but their levels of experience can vary greatly. You can expect to get what you pay for on these sites.

I’ve used these sites for entry level work with modest success. I’ve yet to use them for anything high-value, so I can’t personally preach for them.

The key ingredient for us to make it work is the foundation of relationship that we have established. When one team member doesn’t know another, he or she will have an expectation to be professional and great in his or her craft. We have established a bar that we set very high and intent to keep no matter what project we take on.

Working remote means being able to travel on an instant's notice and knowing how to pack all your essential gear.

Working with talented crew is a must for us. Gear knowledge is imperative on location.

This is what makes TAR productions so great. An environment in which each team member can rely on those they collaborate with so they can focus on doing their job to the best of their ability and not worry about chasing others.

I had to recreate what TAR is as a company. I had to pivot. I took a look at the industry and where I thought it was going. We have an enormous amount of powerful cloud technology and decided to take advantage of it. This is why I was quoted in Inc. Magazine.

I knew to take advantage of my network and team members I would have to work with them on equal terms. FedExing a drive is so easy. Drives are small in size, bus powered and can be easily mailed through FedEx’s pre-packaged boxes. We now take drives directly from the mobile command unit to FedEx, and the backup stays with us and goes directly on our media RAID.

We ship a drive to our editors, colorists, sound designers all over the world. We work with top-notch digital markers located in multiple continents. So here’s a quick rundown of our process. We’ll detail this out in a future post soon.

  1. Fill crew members for production and post
  2. Organize production crew and post-production crew
  3. Estimate rough idea of schedules
  4. Ship drives to Editor, Colorist, Sound Designer (sometimes sound is sent via Hightail or other FTP-like system)
  5. Setup cloud workflow for project files, FCPXML
  6. Deliver final project files from Editor to Colorist, Sound Designers
  7. Sound Designer send link to mixed stems
  8. Editor & Colorist mail back drive using our FedEx account
  9. Final renders and masters are saved on media RAID at TAR HQ
  10. Link delivered to client upon receipt of full payment

This has worked pretty well for us. It’s efficient and effective. It reduces our overhead while expanding our creativity and professionalism.

We’ve set up a cloud workflow that allows everyone to be on the same page, and our Producer/Project Manager makes sure everything is done on time and on schedule.


The other great advantage of having a fully distributed team of freelancers is the ability to be nimble. We don’t have a huge overhead or large payroll that we have to cover every two weeks.

This can be a burden, especially if you a growing company. You take on projects just to keep the lights on, you loosen up on your project requirements and can deliver subpar projects.

A majority of our work is focused on consumer products and lifestyle brands, but we work in quite a lot of vertices. We establish a team for each project is makes us more effective and nimble.

When you're on set with a crew, you always have to be proving your salt. Never stop.

Filmmaking is about being part of a team.

As I outlined in our post on budgeting video projects, we set rates for each crewmember for each job. When we bring in someone with specific experience it allows us to be more flexible and raise the bar. We, as a company, haven’t done a lot in the beauty world, but some of our go-to Directors of Photography have and having them on our team makes us so much more valuable, furthering the win-win-win scenario.

We are able to scale pretty quickly for larger jobs and work all over with an experienced team because of this. Our crew have their own setups allowing them to take on multiple projects during any given month- and that variety is exciting and stimulating, enough that the security of a salaried job and a limited scope of work is stifling rather and desired.

Large in Size or Heart

From time to time, I’ll see a website that has a “team” page with several headshots suggesting the video production company is much larger than it is in reality. This may or may not be true but, in general, I don’t think it’s a good idea.

I think it’s misleading to the prospective client and probably does more harm than good. It’s okay to be a small company. It’s okay to be yourself and offer your services to companies that find value in it. Suggesting you are something you’re not can come back to bite you in the ass.

You don’t need to appear to be big to get clients. You need to do great work, and having a strong team is the backbone of great work. I recently read a stat that said by 2019, 25% of our workforce will be made up of freelancers. I think this is great.

Furthermore, you’re pricing project based on value, not team size, right? The relationship you establish with a client will be made during your first meetings or phone calls. Clients are people too. Having a huge team page that isn’t a fair representation of who you are is equivalent to Napoleon Complex. I think it’s better to impress your client with your process, services, knowledge, and expertise.

Professionals are no longer seeking the perceived safe bet of a big corporate company, but rather are drawn to the unique value propositions and talents of more boutique, yet established agencies.

We have growth plans of our own and plan to take on a few Full-Time employees but only when this makes sense for us. Even when we reach our peak goals we still plan to utilize our network of freelancers, maximizing our elasticity.

The bottom line is this: We’re able to do great work because of our team and defined process. These are two unique ingredients that differentiate us in the marketplace. Our team members can also do other work when they desire.


The largest challenge we have being distributed is interpersonal conversations and bonding that can happen. Sometimes, it’s really helpful to sit in the same room with someone and hash out ideas, talk through problems or how we can overcome something. This collaboration can be very valuable, and I’ll be honest with you, it’s really hard to duplicate this even with Skype or Google Hangouts or screen shares.

We all need the occasional reality check from our peers. And the presence one holds in a room can change the environment subtlely. This can create an in-person pressure that helps bring out the best in someone.

We overcome this with the reasons I listed above, having senior, professionals who have been working together for several years. Our team know the way the other person thinks. They know their humor, if they are night owls or early birds, when they can expect deliverables.

I’ve found that when projects are set up this way, and the expectation is set, everyone follows it and can accomplish the project’s goals. In a unique way, we’ve been able to create our own digital bond among our team.


Having a distributed team has worked for us, but only after pivoting a few times. We’ve set up the right team to run this process and manage the team. We can have several different teams going at once but luckily our Producer/Project Manager is a rockstar.

We get a lot of emails from people wanting to work with us. We take it as a compliment and file everyone’s email based on location and skill. We can’t respond to everyone as we receive quite a few of these, but it’s still nice to know who’s out there in our industry and where they are.

If we happen to have a shoot in some place we haven’t yet been it makes it easy for us to hire locals with knowledge of the area and might be able to help source certain gear or shots. All this comes down to building our story. If you want to be part of this list email us at team @ Be sure to include what you do, where you’re located, experience or career highlights and a link to your reel or portfolio.

Do you have a distributed team or have questions about running one? Let us know in the comments below!

What are your thoughts on this article? Let us know in the comments below!

5 Realities About Branded Entertainment Every Creator Should Know

The New Form of Advertising: Branded Entertainment

As we’ve talked about many times here on this blog, Branded Entertainment is a modern and sophisticated vehicle for brands to reach, connect, and earn trust in consumers. Consumers are numb to being blasted with repetitive ads that advertisers hope will keep their brand “top of mind” when making purchasing decisions. Traditional advertising is losing it’s effectiveness, and rather than doubling down on impressions and ad buys, smart brands are embracing the future and pivoting their stance. These are the brands that are connecting (read: advertising to) with consumers through storytelling and branded entertainment. 

Consumers have been distracted by ads for a long time, but we’ve now reached an age where the connection is the value. In today’s internet world, we have ad blockers, Spotify Premium, YouTube Red among others to free ourselves of ads. In yesteryear, when ad ad came on the TV we would get up and get a drink or water or use the bathroom.
Branded Entertainment has emerged as a new form of advertising, but one that is accepted by consumers. I asked our friend Wilson Cleveland to expand on this topic. 
Enter Wilson…

Eliza Dushku from Leap Year

In the TV world, networks green light shows they believe will draw a large audience. They rely on advertisers to buy inventory of spots during those shows for six-to-seven figures per-episode in order to recoup their investment. That model doesn’t work as well in digital for many reasons but summed up, quality content costs money, period and the very nature of the internet makes its advertising rates exponentially lower than TV.

The cost of ONE 30-second spot during new episodes of TV’s highest-rated comedy, The Big Bang Theory is approximately $350,000 (Nielsen). That’s roughly $5.6 million ad revenue CBS recoups per episode for a show that averages 16.7 million viewers every week.  By comparison, PewDiePie – YouTube’s most popular creator with 43+ million subscribers earns roughly $43,000 (SocialBlade) in ad revenue per video and averages approximately 10.8 million views every day.  

Online video isn’t cheaper to make, it’s just harder for creators/platforms to monetize. Economically, networks can’t invest millions on a digital series expecting to recoup their investment through digital pre-roll and banner alone.  To get a digital series green lit, networks have to get a brand on board to cover the production costs, same as you. The challenge is, brands don’t like spending money on content created for any other purpose than compelling customers to buy their stuff.

So if you’re hoping to get a brand to back your idea, you need to approach them from the jump.  Are you down? Great! Here are 5 things you need to know:


As an independent filmmaker or producer, you’re better-positioned than you might think to tell stories that interest you creatively and support a brand economically.  See, advertising – particularly digital advertising, has become progressively less effective in recent years thanks to ad blockers, click fraud and a myriad of other factors.  Instead, brand marketers are shifting more annual budget toward content marketing, social media, and influencer campaigns.  So we’ve got that going for us.

When first investigating brands to approach, ignore the big names that will inevitably be top of mind.  If you already know who they are, they likely won’t need your help. Why? Because the mere fact you’ve recalled the brand on your own means you’ve probably seen their ads on TV or billboards or online banners. That means they already have at least one, likely multiple ad agencies who feel they’re doing just fine without you siphoning a morsel from their Jurassic-sized budgets.

$43,000 in revenue per video.

Most of the brands I work with are smaller units of big financial companies, non-profits or middle-market B2B services companies that the gen pop is less aware of. These are the brands that have the money and vested interest in getting their name out there and doing something cool to break through the clutter. Financial, non-profit and B2B brands need compelling messages to attract the attention of busy decision makers. A brand’s message may be one of dozens or hundreds its audience sees in a day, so it needs to be useful, unique and fit into their target audience’s day-to-day experience. Valuable and/or entertaining content creates an ongoing relationship with the audience, particularly through social media channels that can evolve into buying customers and brand advocates. That makes your awesome idea awesome and potentially useful.

A well-produced series or short has the potential to improve a brand’s awareness and reputation. High-quality entertainment is frequently shared, improving a brand’s reach and its industry standing. Existing customers also have a reason to pay attention to continued messaging from a company when it puts out highly relevant entertainment.  Plus, branded entertainment fosters better organic search rankings in content quality and authority.

Once you’ve identified a handful of brands, visit the press page on their site to get the name of their internal marketing, PR or communications contact (pro tip: it’s the person listed at the bottom of every press release).

But before you reach out…


Your initial outreach to any brand should be a succinct, informed and customized answer to their one inevitable question: “How does the story you want to tell help my brand sell more stuff?”

First, you’ll need to think like a marketer. Check out sites like Adweek and Ad Age to get a digestible crash course in what “thinking like a marketer” looks and feels like. Next, try familiarizing yourself with the brand’s needs and goals. What story isn’t being told and how can your project help them tell it a different way? How does your script or idea align thematically with its brand narrative?  Use free tools like Simply Measured to audit the brand’s social media followings and compare with your own audience demographics. You want to look for overlaps in audience data – age, interests, geography, etc.  Why?  Because if your audiences are similar, chances are the brand will trust your ability to create content their customers will engage with. For example, when I open my YouTube channel analytics, it shows my subscribers are comprised primarily of men 25-34 and women 18-24. The content I typically create just happens to appeal to that demographic more than others.  This is useful data to mention if I’m pitching a brand looking to raise awareness among or currently selling to those audiences.

Leap Year Season 2 Trailer

Branded Entertainment BTS

Hiscox Insurance used branded entertainment to increase sales by 35%

It’s important you never come at a brand like your idea is a silver bullet for their marketing problems. Brands don’t like hearing what they’re doing wrong or should be doing. Don’t poke that bear.  Find a way to explain how your show idea will help the brand tell its story in a new, innovative way.

I work with an insurance company client – Hiscox Insurance, who was looking to promote a new line of coverage geared toward tech entrepreneurs. Being a British insurer brand-new to the U.S. market, their core challenges were lacks of awareness and credibility with that audience. Our strategy was to lean into that reality – If you want to show tech entrepreneurs you understand them and their needs, we needed to make a scripted show specifically for and about realistic tech entrepreneurs founding a startup.  Long before HBO, we created a Silicon Valley dramedy series for Hiscox called Leap Year about five friends who get laid off from corporate jobs and found a startup.  Leap Year directly contributed to a total 35% increase in product quotes viewed and products purchased online over the course of two seasons.  But it wasn’t just the series’ high production quality or the parade of TV-familiar guest stars like Eliza Dushku and Emma Caulfield from Buffy, Craig Bierko and Scandal’s Josh Malina that pulled viewers through the Hiscox sales funnel.   

Here’s how we did it:

First and foremost, we went to great lengths to insure Leap Year’s storylines would feel relevant and authentic to Hiscox’s target buying audience of startup entrepreneurs.  Season one followed the five main characters through fundraising with season two chronicling their struggles to bring their “Skype with holograms” product, C3D to market. We set part of season two inside the actual Techstars startup incubator and cast Valley-friendly cameos like Rachel Sklar, Reddit Founder Alexis Ohanian, Guy Kawasaki and former TechCrunch writer, Ryan Lawler.  The result was a series that struck a chord with the target audience, established a trusting relationship with Hiscox and generated over 10 million views. General consumer surveys conducted after each season revealed aided brand awareness nearly doubled.  Brand impressions across traditional and social media hit 425 million by the end of season two and netted a total 55,000 followers for Hiscox across socials. 


Brands make useful partners beyond funding your production outright.  In fact, many will lend or gift you things you need in exchange for promotion value.  Locations, wardrobe, craft services, props, etc. cost money same as talent, gear and crew, right? Think about how you can offset those costs with help from smaller, local brands. Find clothing designers on Etsy or local boutiques and bars/restaurants/specialty stores on Yelp. The likelihood of getting free stuff increases if you have an existing following or body of work.  Sometimes the promise of a shout out on your socials or a credit in the project will be enough.

Branded Entertainment is fun, and we have fun on set, too.

Producer Wilson Cleveland on set.


Asking brands to drop cash on your project then step back is a hard sell. After all, most companies in a position to pay big bucks for branded content are hands-on if anything.  The bigger (and more consumer-facing) the brand, the more protective they are of their image.  

A couple years ago I co-created and produced a branded series for Trident Layers called The Webventures of Justin and Alden about two dudes who road trip across L.A. on a mission to make “the greatest web series web show that’s ever been on the web computer.”  The client insisted on the gum playing a starring role. They were very particular about how the gum could be featured – how you unwrap the gum, how you could show it, how you describe it, who was allowed to touch it. I mean, it’s gum you guys. That degree of meticulousness and product placement would make most storytellers burst into flame but we created a world within the series that was so completely absurd, it made sense for the gum to be treated as a character.

There have been cases where the further you get into the script, the company starts to get a little bit nervous. They will get a little protective because web series as marketing is still new to many brands. My advice to brands on the fence is always: Trust the people who are making the content for you. If you’re focused on how your product is unwrapped versus the story happening around it, you’re never gonna get there. It’s never going to help you as a marketing vehicle. Because it’s not an ad. The audience will not watch it and most networks will require a significant additional media buy if it’s overly branded.  Get the brand to pay for the groceries and sit at the table, but stay out of the kitchen. That’s the recipe for branded entertainment worth watching.


Never assume how much the brand contact you’re pitching knows about the process or related costs of production. I’ve seen filmmakers who feel they need to attach pitches to low ball estimates to get in the door, only to hear the brand marketer say, “Oh wow, that’s much lower than we expected.” Face palm! Now you’ve potentially stuck yourself with making a $100K project for less. I’ve also seen filmmakers get greedy, assuming brands have unlimited budgets, so they come in too high not knowing they’re pitching an experienced exec who used to run marketing at a Fortune 500. Double face palm!  Now you’ve priced yourself out of your own idea!

Always sell a brand on your idea first, then price it accordingly.

Wilson Cleveland is a professional actor/producer/Internet personality and creator of the Webby-honored indie shorts like SPiN and Kept Man and brand-sponsored series like the Vox docuseries Courageous Leaders, The Temp Life, USA Network’s Leap Year, The Webventures of Justin & Alden and the Lifetime miniseries, Suite 7, among others.  His current project, Intricate Vengeance created for Ron Howard and Brian Grazer’s New Form Digital studio is streaming now. Follow Wilson on Twitter @WilsonCleveland.

What are your thoughts on this article? Let us know in the comments below!

Best of NAB 2016

Best Products from NAB 2016

Every year we post a round up of NAB and what we think are the most impressive product announcement. For reference, you can read out previous Best of NAB from 2015 and 2014. Naturally, we’re storytellers, and that’s all we really care about, but having the right tools to help us tell these stories are essential.

By no means are we gear heads, and these roundups are our own, independent, opinions.

The impressive, 4K, HDR Atomos Shogun Inferno

Atomos Shogun Inferno

For the first time on our NAB roundups, Atomos makes the list. Their products have always been impressive and director monitors are essential, in our humble opinion. The Shogun Inferno packs a punch, too, with 4K recording and other essential features such as false color, scopes and XLR audio inputs.

What’s truly impressive is that the Shogun Inferno records HDR with log images. HDR is the next leap in filmmaking and allows for a more realistic final product, meaning your audiences will be that much more attached to your story. Netflix and Amazon Prime are both delivering content in HDR, and that means YouTube and Vimeo and mobile phones aren’t that far off. The time to starting thinking about this is now.

Lumberjack System Derived Keywords

Lumberjack is an essential tool that we use on every documentary project or anything with interviews that need to be transcribed. Last years at NAB Lumberjack added transcription keyword ranges for FCPX, and this year they’ve taken it a step further with Derived Keywords.

This may not be the most exciting feature but it’s incredibly powerful. It’s our guess that in the near future we’ll be able to fully automate transcription and, in conjunction with, derived keywords we can quickly and easily make assembly edits- so long as you know your story going into it. This will speed up many laborious steps in post production even more so than FCPX and Lumberjack have already done.

DJI Ronin MX and M600 Drone

DJI is always coming out with awesome products, we’re big fans from the Phantom line of drones to the Ronin stabilizers. We use them all the time and these are two our favorite tools that help us tell incredible stories. DJI has continued to refine and update their product line and the Ronin MX and M600 Drone are two of their best. Check out the awesome video featuring TAR Production’s frequent collaboration DP Ernesto Lomeli.

Re:Vision Effects

We would be missing something if we didn’t feature any VR. Long before our VR shoot with Samsung, we’ve been big fans and proponents of Virtual Reality. Besides HDR, this is also the next big leap for filmmaking. GoPro, Nokia and others are all making multi-camera VR possible, but this always involves stitching the camera together. At NAB 2016, Re:Vision Effects launched a new product plug-in Re:lens for After Effects (with more compositing platforms and NLEs coming soon).

As the video above suggests, you can shoot 360˚ video using a single lens. This works using a combo of hardware lens adaptors and software. It’s pretty catchy.

What are your thoughts on NAB 2016 and where the video industry is going? Let us know in the comments below!

How to Find the Right Video Production Company

Video can be a powerful and effective marketing tool for businesses any size. The medium can help startups get visibility and allow the biggest brands in the world to connect with millions.

We’ve seen startups, such as the Dollar Shave Club, make their debut incredibly powerful because of a catchy, viral video. We’ve also seen brands such as Doritos make everyone laugh and create viral success after viral success, they have even used them as Superbowl commercials.

Video is a Medium on the Rise

Video is a great medium because it’s within reach for any business. Yes, production value makes a big impact on what budget is necessary to achieve something. But if your expectations are reasonable there’s probably a good company out there who is a good fit. And, what’s more important than production value? Storytelling.

This post will show you how to fine tune your project goals as an organization, how to prepare for your video and what to (and what not to) look for in a potential creative partner for video. Most importantly, this post will help you ensure your story comes across and connects with your customers, fans, and audience.

In today’s digital world, we know that geography doesn’t impact who you work with very much. Does geography limit your reach to potential customers?

YouTube, Instagram, Facebook and other video networks have users everywhere, and your customers are, too. The most important strategy is to remain authentic.

Ideas on Filmmaking

Defining Purpose and Project Goals

Projects with goals are always more successful than those without goals. Why? For one, everyone involved has something to track their efforts towards. It’s difficult to just make something cool without much purpose behind what’s ‘cool’ or even defining what ‘cool’ is- since it’s subjective.

Defining goals means that you’re organized and have a purpose. Typically, a video production team can help you work through this, but doing a little homework beforehand will benefit you in the long run.

Ask yourself:
Why are we making a video for my product/service/launch?
What do we want people to walk away with?
How will this connect with our core audience?
What impact do we want this video to have?

Every project has it’s own set of parameters, from budget to timing, location and distribution plan. These parameters are not limitations but challenges, and this is part of the reason you’re hiring a production company- to work through the diverse and complicated landscape that you don’t have a ton of experience in.

The biggest asset you have is knowing your brand, your customers, and the benefit of what works, how it works and why it works. This information and insight is the equivalent of gold to any production. All this boils down to the why.

Why? The Most Important Question to Ask Yourself Before a Project

We first need to understand why. Why the product exists, how it helps your customers, why others need this product or service. These are challenges that every marketer needs to ask themselves. Once you understand and are clear on the why, you can set goals. Let’s not put the cart before the horse.

The why of your project defines the purpose. When defining your purpose, ask yourself:

Who are we trying to reach?
Why are we doing it this way?
Why does this video exists to begin with?
How does this improve my customers lives?
When will our audience take action? (and what action do I want them to take?)
What will our intended audience tell their friends?

Defining purpose is less concrete than specific goals, but also more high level. Sometimes, purpose is defined very early on in a product lifecycle, at the onset of product development. Other times, purpose might be the equivalent to your company’s existence.

For example, a product launch video’s purpose might be nearly identical to why a product was dreamt up and developed. Many crowdfunding videos fall into this category.

In these videos, it’s often important to explain why the product exists and how it’s going to improve customer’s lives.

Lifestyle brand’s purpose for videos may be to connect with fans in it’s simplest form. But that simple sentence can actually carry a lot of weight.

In order to truly make that connection, you really have to speak to, and identify with, your core audience. You have to make something click. You need to have your audience literally think “ah, ha!” when watching your video.

When this kind of connection happens, your goals will follow. Connection on this level will make your audience want to share your video, follow your brand on Instagram, and have them seek your brand message out as a guideline for their own lives. You become influential, and in turn they want to share that influence with their networks.

Essentially, when you create a connection so strong with a fan, the feeling they get when watching your video is the exact feeling they want someone else to feel after seeing their share. It’s an incredibly powerful tool.

This is why defining goals and purpose are so important.

Video is a medium on the rise.

How to Set Goals

As noted in our process, we start our creative process with a project brief that helps gather everyone’s thoughts. The exercise is really powerful in guiding you through a thought process that makes you think about what’s important (in terms of goals, areas of focus, and purpose) and separating what’s not important. The questions start off general (timeline, project description, etc.) and get more specific (3 project goals, customer demographics, etc.).

Often times when we’re working with larger organizations, the team will be made up of several people. Each person might have their own thoughts and opinions on the project, and our project brief allows them to talk through questions and goals and get on the same page internally as an organization. It also helps them understand one another better.

The project brief has two main benefits: getting you and us on the same page, but also you and your internal team.

All of this results in a better product in the end. We’re big fans of in-depth pre-production and definitely think it makes for a smoother production and post-production process.

Finding the right Video Production Company to Work With

The Internet has brought so many powerful distribution outlets for creatives, specifically for video, there are a number of channels, with YouTube being the most popular. You’ve probably seen incredible videos out there and thought to yourself how great it would be to do something like that for your brand or company, but don’t know where to start.

Creatives tend to hang out in a few places online. We love to give digital high-fives and share with our networks great work that inspires us.

As technology progresses and our tools allow us to do more, the overlap between sub communities merges. Cinematographers become photographers, editors become producers, musicians delve into motion and so forth.

The central location for this online is Vimeo. Vimeo prides itself on a high quality player and community for creatives. By and large the content on Vimeo is very high quality and there are plenty of groups supported by individuals who love sharing and curating work.

Finding an example can be a great first step in making a video. Once you do this you can easily check out the creator’s other work. Bookmark videos you like and dissect what you like about them. You can write down adjectives and other descriptors from each one such as:

Another great trick for Vimeo is to start following a few creators you like. In the “My Feed” tab on the homepage, you can quickly see when someone you follow has uploaded something new, like or commented on a video, appeared in another video and more. This will quickly introduce you to other people who’s work you might also like.

Be Prepared: Plan & Organize Your Video, then Reach Out

Once you have an idea of what you’re looking for it’s time to start planning out your video. The things you should be planning are logistics such as timing, target completion date, background info on company, goals, budget, distribution channels, etc.

Your company may already have the logistics worked out. If your deadline is based around an event, you can leverage preexisting marketing outlets with your video. If your target demographic is there, then a video can seamlessly be fit into the equation.

When you’re ready to approach a video production company, the more organized you come, the more likely you’ll start off on a good track (hint: read on for an example of this). Videos take time to produce and create, you’ll be spending a lot of time with this team. Working together goes a long way.

You know your company or product much better than the production company will. Be prepared to bring them up to speed on who you are and what your goals are. Don’t worry about creative idea or execution, this is why you’re partnering with them, they will be happy to help you along this path.

Also share with them any restrictions you might have. Is there a hard deadline for this project? What’s driving that? Do you have budget limitations (yes, everyone does) and what are they?

It’s okay to ask for a few ideas from the creative and get an explanation of what each project looks like. Ask yourself the potential ROI of each of them.

When you have a plan and a few potential creators, reach out to them. I’ve found it best to be more detailed up front and get the dialog going right away. Plus, the more details you can provide the less you’ll have to repeat during conference calls.

The details you’ve outlined and adjectives will give the production company a head start on what this project entails going into it.  If there’s a project of theirs that you particularly like mention what you like about it and why.

Creative Brainstorming

Everyone you talk to will probably have their own way of approaching projects. For us, it starts with the creative brief. We hold off on sharing creative ideas before then because everything we do has a purpose. We’re constantly asking ourselves “Why?” We are so curious we like to peel back layer after layer, until we find the meaning of our project.

Whoever you end up working with, it’s part of their job to create or develop the story your company is telling. Research, scouting locations, talking to potential characters and thinking outside the box can really go a long way.

When we approach projects we like to get the jist of what we’re dealing with, but we like to peel back each layer ourselves. This is how we connect with people, and our audience will have the same feeling.

We do this because we’re storytellers and we have to know how we’re going to structure our story. Settings, demographics, location, etc all play into our storytelling, too.

Others might not do this or have their own approach. Whichever way works for them you should respect it. You’re talking to them for a reason- you like their work and might want them to make something with you. The last thing I would recommend is trying to mix a few things up and end up with a subpar project.

When HouseCall first approached us about their explainer video they had this crazy and ambitious idea. It was complex, involved multiple shoot locations and days and had a somewhat convoluted storyline.

Their idea came out in our first meeting, after a couple of phone calls back and forth. We knew their (yet to be released) product, we knew their market and who they were targeting, we knew YouTube was the primary distribution channels and that the video would be accompanied with press releases. We knew their budget and we knew it was a good fit for each other.

Their idea was too ambitious. Their budget didn’t support it and they were taking a simple idea and making it complex. It sounded good in pitch form, but after producing videos for more than 12 years I knew it was too much, and I had to shut it down.

Taking all the information from our conversations we had and the info from the project brief, we started dreaming up a few ideas. I pitched them the idea for a single take walk through that showed the before and after in one-take. They loved it and that’s what we executed.

TAR Productions crew on location


The Projects We Look For

While there are plenty of dream projects we’d love to be a part of, we do have to work with limitations on every project. Our best work has always been the projects that sometimes seemed too lofty or the project our client had always been dreaming of tackling. This is why we’re here, after all, to support and work with our clients.

The projects that we’re dying to make are:

  • A brand new product launch: The thing you’ve been working on for 2+ years and is really going to make an impact on your company, industry and customer’s lives. We love this!
  • Lifestyle, Sports, Technology, Nature: This pretty much sums us up. Anything related to this and you’ve already got our undivided attention. This is what earned us an Emmy-Award nomination. If you really want to push it creatively we may just end up becoming best friends.
  • Something that’s never been done before. We’re explorers and creatives, we love challenging ourselves and dreaming of what’s possible. If there’s a story to tell and a way to connect with your audience, we’ll figure that out and make something remarkable.
  • Traveling to the edge of the world, and back: We cut our teeth traveling and have flown around the world many, many times. Not only are we expert navigators dealing with complex logistics, chances are we know local resources wherever it is your story takes us, making things all that much easier.
  • Storytelling. While there’s a story behind everything, this is what we do best. Sometimes you have to peel back the layers and find the story that will really catch on with your audience. It sounds hard but don’t worry, that what we’re here for.

Also, in the interests of saving all of us some time, here are the projects we’re not a good fit for:

  • You’re shopping for the lowest price: Everything we do is based on value and we only take on projects where we feel you can make more money than you pay us. We don’t compete on price and don’t even have rates. Want to know more about how we price projects, we wrote this nifty guide on how our projects are priced. Value pricing has been incredibly beneficial those we work with.
  • Projects that need to be done right away: There are always exceptions to the rule, but for the most part, the project you need completed in 3 days isn’t a good fit for us. We have a process and the only way we can be sure you’ll get value out of what we make together is to stick to that process. Hint: Generally speaking, it usually takes 8-12 weeks from start to completion for any given video production project.
  • The project you “just need done.” Filmmaking is a collaborational effort. And while the level of collaboration can vary between you and us, we’ll need your input. Plus, if you already have it all worked out we probably can’t add much value. We prefer to work through and solve problems together.
  • Onerous contractual terms: As I said earlier, video is a collaborative effort, and our agreement should be mutually beneficial, too. We feel so strongly about this that we made our contract open-source. If we end up working together this is where we’ll start.


There are many incredible creative communities out there. Finding the right fit for you, your team and/or your project is incredibly valuable. Taking the advice in this post and reaching out to a creative production company or agency can be the foundation that you need to take your project, and your company, to the next level.

If you’d like to reach out to TAR Productions please do so or shoot an email to Tell us a little bit about your project, why you’re doing it and why you think everyone will love it. We love hearing from everyone and look forward to our next creative project.

Don’t know where to start or how to reach out? Use this template as a guide, edit as needed to suit your needs.

Hi TAR Productions,

I was checking out your work online and really impressed. My friend [Suzanne Smith] recommended I get in touch with after I told her about a project my team has been working on.

I’m a marketing manager at [Under Armor] and we’re launching a [new line of product based around our new breakthrough, sweatproof technology for triathletes, cyclists and swimmers]. We’ve been working on it internally for 2+ years and it’s going to launch in the next 6 months, in time for the triathlon season to start. I’d love to partner with you on an awesome video that will take the product launch to the next level.

We’ll need to really make an impact with our core customers but also reach out non-endemic customers as we believe this product will have a positive effects on anyone doing general training as well.

You’ll be working with myself and our CMO, so we can move pretty quickly. We need to keep our budget in the $90k-$115k range, but might be able to allocate a bit more if the right creative idea were to present itself.

I’m happy to provide more details and I look forward to speaking with you guys about your process and how you might be able to help us make this launch a success.


Some of our favorite projects turn out to be so great because of the people we’re working with. Often times we remain friends with these clients. The one commonality between all of them is each project was kicked off with excitement and a mutual understanding and respect for one another.

Creating a video is a collaboration and emails like the above example make us feel good about the project. It makes us care even more and want to produce the best work we can. These situations make it feel less like a job and more a journey that we get to go on together.

What are your thoughts on this article? Let us know in the comments below!

11 Cinematographers to Follow on Instagram

Social media has not only changed the way we communicate with friends, peers, fans and brands alike; It has also changed the way we connect, educate, inspire. The overlapping principles between still photography and motion have provided an outlet for some of the world’s best cinematographers to connect with anyone, making their personal accounts worthwhile for a follow.

Cinematographers have always taken a backseat to photographers outside their niche. In the past, very few cinematographers would also shoot magazine covers or still campaigns for brands. But alas, we live in the digital age now and the lines are blurred, if not completely erased, as to what’s possible for these professionals.

Video is certainly a medium on the rise with Flickr, Vine, Periscope and Snapchat all embracing the medium. But a simple photograph can easily be just as powerful, and some lens masters aren’t always where you’d expect.

Below are some incredible cinematographers that will inspire you and make your Instagram feed more enjoyable.

A photo posted by Kate Arizmendi (@katearizmendi) on

Kate Arizmendi

@katearizmendi: Kate’s feed is a mix of pop, culture, art, work and women’s equality. Her feed is fun, and, of course, the occasional behind the scenes is always interesting. Based in NY, Kate shoots short films, commercials and music videos and has worked with great lifestyle brands.

Shane Hurlburt, ASC

@shanehurlbutasc: With several studio backed features to his name, and a pioneer in the digital cinema age with the Canon 5Dii shooting about 75% of Act of Valor on that camera. He, along with his wife Lydia and their team at Hurlbut Visuals, are huge educators and are constantly providing an incredible amount of valuable info to the Inner Circle.

A photo posted by Andy Best (@andy_best) on

Andy Best

@andy_best: Andy is an adventure and outdoors photographer and filmmaker. He’s an explorer for The Outbound and posts some incredible scenics. He’s officially based in Portland, OR but from his feed you can tell he’s pretty much always traveling, wandering and exploring this amazing planet we live on.

Autumn Durald Arkapaw

@addp: Besides great photos of her professional work, Autumn includes great imagery of her everyday life, such as her dog or the clouds. What’s great about these photos is that they all have a cinematic feel to them. It’s refreshing to see mundane everyday things that have a twist.

Russell Houghten

@russellhoughten: Russell is an accomplished skate filmmaker, among other things. He’s one that uses the camera as a tool, and never let’s his tools limit his creativity. He recently shot a video for New Balance Numeric only using an iPhone (a Vimeo Staff pick) and put a GoPro in a fishbowl for a creative little skate video (also a Vimeo Staff pick). His feed includes some awesome skate lifestyle and nature posts, too. So he mixes it up and I definitely recommend you check out his Instagram feed.

A photo posted by @chivexp on

Emmanuel Lubezki

@chivexp: Chivo has consistently worked with directors such as Alfonso Cuaron, Terrence Malick and Alejandro Iñarritu. His feed has some of the most beautiful images you’ll find. His commentary is short and vague, if at all. The most interesting part, he has amassed over 160k followers, has a verified account with Instagram, but there’s never a mention of who he is or any personal confirmation in his posts.

Vincent Laforet

@vincentlaforet: Recently Vincent has been posting some incredible night aerial photos of New York. He recently published a coffee table book of all these aerial images. Vincent was another pioneer in the digital SLR revolution with the Canon 5Dii.

Morgan Maassen

@morganmaasen: Morgan is an incredible surf photographer turned filmmaker. He has a couple of Vimeo’s Staff Picks and is always traveling to remote and exotic locations all over the world. He’s active in his posting and always has a unique shot or location that makes you wish you were in his shoes when the photo was taken. With over 200k followers many have started to take note.

A photo posted by Jerry Ricciotti (@jerryotti) on

Jerry Ricciotti

@jerryotti: Jerry is a DP at Vice Media, mainly shooting Vice on HBO. As you would imagine, he is always traveling to 3rd world countries, usually putting himself in precarious situations. However, Jerry always travels with a quality still camera and his account shares a different side of his travels. A majority of his images are captured on a Sony A7s or Fuji X100s, but he has been posting some incredible frame grabs from his Canon C300ii.

Reed Morano, ASC

@reedmorano Reed’s feed is full of great imagery. Whether she’s on set, scouting or posting the occasional BTS picture. She also has some candid moments with Martin Scorsese. It’s clear by her feed that Reed is a master at light and color.

A photo posted by Wally Pfister (@wpfister) on

Wally Pfister

@wpfister: I’ve really enjoyed Wally’s posts. When I first started getting into cinematographer he was one of the DP’s I would watch closer. Anytime a movie he shot came out I went to go see it (whether I was interested in the plot or not). I got to watch him on set for a day and was mesmerized by watching his vision come to life. It’s really neat to now be able to see into his professional world a little bit for. Wally shot Moneyball, one of my favorite movies.

What I really love is the everyday photos everyone posts on Instagram. Following these cinematographers provides some insight into how each of them view everyday things and where they pull inspiration from.

Are you enjoying these cinematographer’s Instagram feeds? Let us know in the comments below about any feeds you love!